Chiang Mai (January 15, 2010)
We gathered at 8:00am for breakfast, walking to a nearby street dominated by Chinese muslim merchants. The menu included turmeric rice with a choice of chicken or goat, and a couple choices of noodle soups. The goat was tender and a bit rich, like a beef shank. Even though the rice made it a filling room, we had to try a few specialties from the local market as well. The first was a mysterious pancake with a chewy texture; it seemed to have some corn flavor (consistent with its yellow color), but must also have contained wheat or rice to account for its glutinous quality. The flavor was pleasant, but the accompany falafel-like balls with a sweet-hot red dipping sauce were much more impressive. Flavored with fresh herbs and fried up light and fluffy, we could have eaten another order. For dessert (yes, with breakfast) we shared the local roti which, mercifully, did not have as much sugar and sweetened condensed milk as the ones in Mae Hong Son.
After breakfast, we took a brief stroll in the local market. Here we found the local equivalent of an outdoor dollar store, featuring such curiosities as a combination toenail clipper and beer opener. Live chickens waited quietly in baskets to be purchased, and apparently it is not unusual for a woman to nestle a live chicken under her arm — in a plastic bag, of course — while making her other purchases. The Chinese broccoli at one stall must have been very fresh indeed: bees were still visiting its flowers. Well, onto fancier and more expensive, if less essential, things. (In the van, we sampled two more items from the local market, one a savory crunchy/chewy ring of deep-fried mystery, perhaps black sticky rice and wheat flour, the other like a little doughtnut.)
Our factory tour would run from hand-woven silk and hand-hammered silver, to hand-made paper and hand-lacquered wood. Some of the stores had a guided tour or demonstration (the one at the lacquer place was the best), while others let you watch the workers going about their tasks. We made a variety of purchases, but I went a little easy on the decorative items this year, as I hardly use the ones I bought in 2008.
We had lunch on the run between paper stores. First stop was a stand selling fat sour sausages of a charcoal grill. With more rice and thin crystal noodles than chunks of pork, the sausages were almost a meal in a casing. To fill any remaining belly space, we had boneless fried chicken “nuggets” (which were good) and fried squid tentacles (which were a bit tough). We also shared a “rice salad” with clumps of sticky rice, bits of sour sausage, shreds of pork skin, some peanuts, and clumps of lettuce and cabbage. Quite tasty, if a bit messy.
As we left the lacquer place, our driver noticed a commotion in the parking lot, and told me to get my camera. Several people were looking at the sun through a darkened piece of glass: a partial eclipse was in progress. This turns out to be very difficult to photograph, and I had to try a second time when we got back to the hotel.
Before dinner, I headed out to Anusarn market for a foot massage. I took a seat at the outdoor foot massage place where you face toward the parking lot. I watched vendors set up their stalls — hill tribe clothing and fabrics, lamps and souvenirs fashioned from wood, fruit shakes, and others — while a young woman poked a hard wooden stick into my feet. Only toward the end of my hour massage did other customers arrive, in droves. The shop was suddenly busy just after 6pm, and I imagine it will be busy for the rest of the weekend. On the way back, I picked up my laundry. At first I was surprised that the proprietor knew immediately which bag was mine, but upon later reflection, the fact that I had dropped off two short sleeved Hawaiian shirts and showed up wearing a third may have been a clue.
We are eating at fancier restaurants here in Chiang Mai, and today’s dinner was no exception. Although Thanam Restaurant did not seat us in front of the musicians as requested, we did have a table for 10 right on the river. Mosquito bites aside, this was a great location — and the food was pretty good, too. We started with a plate of fried chicken, its crispy, unbreaded skin a delicious revelation. Following this we had spinach (I think) with garlic in Thai oyster sauce; a salad of tender (and fatty) roast pork slices with heaps of raw garlic; an herb salad heavy on the ginger, Thai basil, lemongrass and shallots; and a deep fried snake head fish immersed in a thin red curry sauce with vegetables. The fish course was very mild, which was not as intended, but we didn’t mind. For dessert, the restaurant presented agar gels of young coconut, which combine a rich flavor with a snappy texture.
Returning to the hotel, two fellow travelers and I joined our drivers and a bellboy for a night at a nearby restaurant with a karaoke system. We ordered a bottle of Sangsom and settled in to wait our turn on the microphone. The details of the evening are a bit of a blur, but I sang two sets of 4 songs, until I was almost hoarse, and we got home by midnight.
Tomorrow we tour local temples, so longer pants and less cash should be the order of the day.